CHICAGO (CBS) — Much of what we know about football’s impact on the human brain is the result of studies involving professional players.
However, new research indicates teenage football players have an increased risk of long-term brain effects after just one season.
The study, conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, looked at 300 youth football players in North Carolina.
Researchers took brain scans before and after one season of play on teens with an average age of 16.
“All this data is pointing to the same thing — that is that one season of football has an effect on the brain,” said Dr. Joseph Maldjian, study researcher at UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute and co-author of the study.
Maldjian and Dr. Elizabeth Davenport, the other co-author of the study, presented their findings to the Radiological Convention at McCormick Place. They suggested thinking of the brain as a network of communication lines, allowing one part of the brain to talk to another — termed “functional connectivity.”
“Over a season of football, their functional connectivity went down,” Davenport said. Granted, the researchers found, the teenagers had a concussion before football, regardless what caused it.
“Whether they were just five, jumping on the bed and fell off — if they had that, then their connectivity changed differently than those players who did not have a previous history of concussion,” Davenport said.
The researchers say their work is in the early stages, but are still urging parents to pay close attention to their young football players.
“Know the signs and symptoms of concussions and make sure your coach knows them, as well, and just be vigilant about watching your child and making sure that they’re safe.”
Maldjian and Davenport say some unanswered questions remain: Do changes in the brain persist? Do they alter development of the young brain? Their aim is to follow players over several years to determine long-term consequences.